I hope you live somewhere cold. Honestly. It makes all the difference if, when removing the OP-1 from its packaging – which is an exercise in artistic design in itself – if the aluminium chassis is cold to the touch. The build quality of the OP-1 is fantastic; it’s unbelievably solid, from the encoders to the buttons, and the OLED screen is beautiful to behold. Does the sound match up to the looks though? Let’s find out.
The aesthetic qualities of the unit are only really only a value adder to the hard and fast audio capabilities of Teenage Engineering’s flagship OP-1, of course. What the OP-1 comprises is eight synthesis engines, a drum machine, effects, a step sequencer, and a flexible recording system that emulates reel to reel tape recording. There’s more besides, such as the gyroscope that can be assigned to many of the parameters, an inbuilt FM radio, internal speaker… It’s a huge amount of stuff to cram into one unit, and thus it’s not surprising that the OP-1 doesn’t have best in class performance of any single feature. What it does do, though, is combine its functionality with its form to enable it to be an inspiring instrument to use – velocity-free note keys notwithstanding.
The OP-1 can have eight simultaneous instruments loaded at once – any combination of the same or different engines that it produces – although it’ll only play one at a time. The synths in the OP-1 are all very simply designed, with an emphasis on making tweaking them fun and easy. Having only four parameters means that they’re not hugely versatile individually, but between them the breadth of sounds that the OP-1 can produce is very impressive.
A run down of each synth engine:
- String: with the ability to change string taughtness, impulse from a morphing slider of very dull to very metallic sound, impulse decay for wetness, and detune, with the right settings you can achieve some quite realistic string sounds – just don’t expect string concertos to make their way out of the OP-1 any time soon.
- Pulse: A simple PWM synth, with the ability to modify the width and height of two pulses and modulate the rate at which they shift.
- Cluster: One of the more versatile engines, Cluster allows you to combine up to six waves and change the envelope to get anything from pizzicato to drone effects. Spread and unitor controls allow you to widen the waves right out and detune them to get expansive sounding patches; it’s good for anything from raspy electro leads to warm atmospherics.
- Digital: Reminiscent of video game sound chips of yore, digital allows you to play with the wave shape, alter the timbre with ring mod and the octave of overtones, and then dial in ‘digitalness’. Chiptune fans rejoice, basically.
- FM: As you might expect, there’s a pretty wide range of sounds to be had out of the FM synth, and modulations can provide wild digital sounds. That said, it’s one of the more abstract interfaces – perhaps because FM synthesis is a constantly surprising synthesis method when turning dials anyway, there’s very little to indicate where parameters are at any given point.
- Phase: Based around putting two sine waves out of phase, the phase synth is capable of some really growly basses. There’s no in-built mechanism to retain the sub bass that is often lost with phase, but there is interesting wave distortion and phase tilt that can really squeal.
- Dr Wave: An wavetable synth with simple controls for wave shape, filter, phase and chorus; Dr Wave sounds great and really benefits from the wave display on screen, as it really shows you how the synthesis can sound so radically different with small changes in parameters.